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Parashat Vayakhel Pekudei
A Treasury of Halachot and Customs of the Festivals of Yisrael Based on the Rulings of the Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
by Rav David Yossef shlit"a
The Halachot of "Birkat Ha'ilanot"
One who goes out during the days of Nissan and sees the trees blossoming recites the blessing of "birkat ha'ilanot" ("the blessing over the trees"): "Baruch Atah Hashem Elokenu Melech ha'olam shelo hiser ba'olamo kelum, u'vara vo beriyot tovot v'ilanot tovot, le'hanot [according to other versions, 'l'hitna'ot'] bahem benei adam."
The Time for Birkat Ha'ilanot
This berachah is recited only once a year. Optimally, one should not recite it in the month of Adar, but rather in the month of Nissan. If, however, one recited the berachah in Adar, he has fulfilled his obligation and need not repeat the berachah in Nissan. If Nissan passed and one did not recite the berachah, he does so during Iyar. Similarly, people living in areas where the trees do not blossom in Nissan, such as in South America, where trees blossom during Tishrei, should recite the berachah during the month of Tishrei and not lose out on this precious berachah.
Those who are particularly diligent in the performance of misvot recite the berachah right away on Rosh Hodesh Nissan. Some have the practice of gathering in large groups for a public recitation of this berachah. Nevertheless, strictly speaking no obligation exists to recite the berachah specifically on Rosh Hodesh Nissan, and one who fails to do so recites the berachah sometime thereafter.
Reciting the Berachah on Shabbat
One is permitted to recite "birkat ha'ilanot" on Shabbat, and we are not concerned that one may forget and rip off flowers from the tree in violation of Shabbat. Preferably, however, one should recite the berachah on a weekday. Only if one had not recited the berachah until the final Shabbat of Nissan, and he is concerned he may forget before the end of the month, should he recite the berachah on Shabbat. In areas without an "eruv" one must ensure not to carry his siddur out into the public domain for the recitation of "birkat ha'ilanot."
The Location of the Tress
It is preferable to recite the berachah over trees planted in gardens and orchards outside the city. If, however, leaving the city entails difficulty as a result of danger or illness, and certainly if this will interfere with Torah study, one may recite the berachah inside the city.
Who is Included in the Obligation
Women, too, recite this berachah, whereas it is not considered a time-bound obligation (from which women are exempt). Although it is instituted specifically for the month of Nissan, this is only because trees generally blossom at that time. It is proper to educate children with regard to this berachah. A boy who reaches the age of bar misvah during the month of Nissan should preferably wait until his thirteenth birthday before reciting "birkat ha'ilanot."
One who is blind in both eyes does not recite "birkat ha'ilanot." Nevertheless, he should preferably listen to the recitation of the berachah by another and have in mind to fulfill his obligation.
A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
Halachot of Pesah
(The shiur was delivered in the year 5760)
The Rema (429) records the practice of distributing grain to the poor before Pesah to enable them to bake masot. Nowadays, when most people do not bake their own masot, the needy should be given ready-made masot and money for the other expenses of Pesah - food, drink and clothing. This is specifically important with regard to large families with heavy expenses; they must be assisted generously. Even though the strict obligation of "kimha de'pis'ha" (flour for Pesah) does not apply nowadays as government agencies and similar bodies provide some support for the needy, nevertheless every Jew must make an effort to assist his brethren in need. There is no greater joy than helping those requiring assistance.
The Torah also commanded affording assistance to the tribe of Levi on the Yamim Tovim (Devarim 16:14), because they devoted all their time to avodat Hashem and did not have a share in the land. The levi'im of our generation are the Torah scholars and kollel students who exert themselves in Torah study rather than un gainful employment (see Rambam, end of Hilchot Shemitta Ve-yovel). It is therefore a very important misvah to support Torah scholars and kollel students, and fortunate is the one who has the privilege of supporting those who learn Torah.
One should preferably give charity to the poor secretly so as not to embarrass them. Hazal say (Baba Batra 9b), "One who gives charity secretly is greater than Moshe Rabbenu." The Gemara explains that Moshe Rabbenu feared Hashem's anger (Devarim 9:19), whereas secretive donations of charity, the pasuk in Mishlei (21:14) teaches, soothes the divine wrath. As giving charity secretly prevents Hashem's anger from descending upon Am Yisrael, one who does so in effect performs a great act of kindness with all of Benei Yisrael. One who assists those in need is thus doubly rewarded from the heavens.
We begin studying the halachot relevant to a festival thirty days prior to the festival. Nevertheless, Torah scholars and yeshivah students may continue their regular studies even within a month of Pesah, and they need not disrupt their normal study schedule to learn the halachot of Pesah.
Many Hebrew acronyms have made their way into contemporary Hebrew vernacular: "tapuz" (orange, a contraction of "tapu'ah zahav"), "hul" (the Diaspora, an acronym of "huss la'aress"), and so on. One such acronym is "luz," which means "schedule" and stands for "lu'ah zemanim."
This Shabbat, we read Parashat Hahodesh which presents the "luz" of yessi'at Missrayim. The prophecy was issued on Rosh Hodesh Nissan, instructing Benei Yisrael to purchase a sheep for the korban pesah on the tenth of the month, slaughter it on the fourteenth, and roast it and eat it that night. At midnight, Hashem will smite the Egyptian firstborn and in the morning Benei Yisrael will leave with pride.
The Torah is eternal, as are its lessons. This is most certainly true with regard to the parashah of our redemption from Egypt, which we are commanded to remember each and every day and ensure that it does not leave our hearts. What more, we read here of the preparation for redemption. We are promised that the future redemption, which we anticipate every day, will resemble the redemption from Egypt - "As in the days when you left Egypt I will show them miracles" (Michah 7:15).
There is no doubt that we stand on the brink of the final redemption. All signs indicate this, all the signals that Hazal said would surface just prior to the redemption have taken place. Mashi'ah is closer now than ever. We are thus required to prepare ourselves to greet him: "This is how you shall eat it: your belts girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hands." Although the sacrifice is eaten only in the first half of the night while Benei Yisrael left only in the morning, when we know that the redemption is imminent we must demonstrate our preparedness.
By adding Torah classes, becoming more careful in how we speak - and providing our children a Torah education!
"Do not burn a fire in any of your settlements on the day of Shabbat"
The Hid"a zs"l brings in this context the comment of the Gemara in Masechet Shabbat that destructive fires take place only in homes where the Shabbat is desecrated. The pasuk thus warns, "Do not desecrate the Shabbat, and thereby you will not burn a fire in any of your settlements because of the day of Shabbat."
The Hid"a also mentions the comment of the Zohar that on Shabbat the wicked in Gehinnom are granted a respite from their suffering, with the exception of those who during their lifetime treated Shabbat like a weekday. As a result of this sin, their Shabbat in Gehinnom is treated like a weekday, too. In light of this idea, Rav Vidal Hassarfati zs"l explained our pasuk: if you observe the Shabbat in this world, and you do not burn fire (which includes electricity and automobile engines), you will not burn there, in Gehinnom!
"Do not burn a fire in any of your settlements on the day of Shabbat"
The "Da'at Hochmah" zs"l cites the comment of the Tikkunei Zohar that explains this pasuk as referring to the fire of anger and strife. The Tikkunei Zohar writes that one who kindles the fires of dispute in this world on Shabbat will burn in Gehinnom, thereby "burning fire in all his settlements"! The "Da'at Hochmah" asks, as the sin of anger is always a grave transgression, and one who becomes angry is considered as having worshipped idols and is subject to all types of punishment in Gehinnom, why does this violation become more severe on Shabbat?
He explains based on the comment of the Zohar that one's soul departs from him, as it were, when he becomes angry. If a person drives away his soul from his internal being during the week, the evil forces will take its place. But on Shabbat, a person receives an extra soul; thus, one who gets angry on Shabbat drives away both souls and thus receives in its place a double measure of evil forces.
"Do not burn a fire in any of your settlements on the day of Shabbat"
The Ramban zs"l writes that Eress Yisrael does not tolerate sinners. It is the King's palace, and one who litters in the street is less brazen than the one who dirties the royal chambers. Correspondingly, Shabbat is the Al-mighty's day; He selected the Shabbat as His from all other days of the week. Therefore, one who violates a transgression on Shabbat commits a more severe sin than one who commits a similar violation during the week.
The Alshich Hakadosh zs"l writes that the "gasoline" with which the fires of Gehinnom burn is sin. We are commanded, "Do not burn a fire in any of your settlements on the day of Shabbat" - we must ensure not to commit sins on Shabbat. He emphasized that the sin of "bittul Torah" (wasting time that could be used for Torah study) is as severe as all others!
"Do not burn a fire in any of your settlements on the day of Shabbat"
Rabbenu Yosef Hayim zs"l writes in his "derashot" that the letter "bet" in the middle of the word Shabbat can be divided into two "alef's." (The numerical value of "bet" is two - twice the numerical value of "alef" - one.) Thus, the word Shabbat may be read as "sa et," or "carry from 'alef' through 'tav.'" This means that one who observes Shabbat properly carries and elevates all the "pipelines" of blessings from the heavens - from "alef" to "tav," as Hazal explain that the pasuk, "Hashem's blessing will bring wealth" refers to Shabbat. If, however, one does not properly observe Shabbat, then the words are read in the reverse order: "ta esh," which means "fire comes." This alludes to Hazal's warning that fire breaks out only in homes where the Shabbat is violated, Heaven forbid.
The Secret Communication Between Elephants
For many years, the parallel movement of herds of elephants over the course of trails stretching for hundreds of miles, with each herd traveling separately several miles away from one another, was an unsolved mystery. Their sudden and fully coordinated arrival at waters sources or other definite meeting places has likewise, on many occasions, aroused wonder and marvel among those who study the behavior of elephants. The summer season led herds of elephants to flock to a certain reservoir built by a team of researchers. The scientists carefully surveyed the sights and sounds with the help of sophisticated equipment that enabled them to oversee a wide area. Every so often, several herds would gather in short intervals and suddenly leave according to some, unidentifiable signal. Sometimes, the herds stood frozen with their ears raised, after which they suddenly broke free and left. During those moments of frozen attention, researchers were able to discern a wide array of ultrasonic messages and responses transmitted among the elephants, the precise meaning of which has yet to be uncovered. The study has yet to be completed, but it is clear that the social behavior of elephants involves ultrasonic communication.
How remarkable it is to see that animals can communicate with each other without our being able to point a finger to the source of this communication; how the animals gather together despite the vast distance between them. Why do mice scatter about when one of them is caught - despite the fact that no warning signal is sounded in the area? This mode of communication, that we cannot identify, is fully sensed by these creatures that use them for their various needs. This phenomenon applies not only to the natural world, but also, "lehavdil," to the sacred nation of Am Yisrael. Throughout its dispersions, no matter how differently Jews dress, speak and eat, no matter how much their lifestyles and music differ from one another, an invisible mode of communication has always unified the nation. This connection among Jews has brought them together during times of crisis as well as, "lehavdil," during times of joy and celebration. It is then when our differences fade away and our nation comes together, much to the surprise of the other nations. Am Yisrael unites even without a specific signal or audible sound. This nation unites, the nation which has crowned the Al-mighty as its King and has given its life for misvot and the sanctity of the Torah.
This Shabbat, we will, please G-d, complete the reading of Sefer Shemot, which concludes with the pasuk, "For Hashem's cloud was on the mishkan by day, and a fire was upon it at night in the view of all of the House of Israel in all their travels." The "Yismah Moshe" zs"l notes an intriguing grammatical inconsistency in the pasuk. The pasuk describes the cloud as "AL hamishkan" - "ON the mishkan," whereas the fire is said to be "BO" - literally, "IN the mishkan." He suggests a beautiful explanation for this pasuk, but I would like to introduce his answer with a story that I heard from the one to which this occurred - the sadik, Rabbi Naftali Hayim of Dzikov zs"l.
He was born in Eress Yisrael and orphaned at a young age. His mother was a young widow and with her son moved back in with her parents in Hungary, where she was married to the rebbe of Sert zs"l, who raised young Naftali as a son. When he reached adulthood, his uncle, the rebbe of Vishnitz zs"l, took him as a son-in-law. He lived with his esteemed father-in-law and became his close disciple.
The Second World War broke out, and Hungary became a sponsor-country of Nazi Germany. Jews were sent to labor camps, countless restrictions were ordered upon them, but yet their lives were somehow tolerable. Towards the end of the war, however, the Germans took control of the country. The heavenly prosecution intensified and so did the heavenly decree: within a span of three months a million Jews in Hungary were sent to destruction - may Hashem avenge their blood.
During this period in which we find ourselves - after the festival of Purim, all the Jews were locked into ghettos. Among those confined to ghettos were the twenty-two thousand Jews of Grusverdain, the city where the rebbe and his student lived. When the Germans arranged their lists with their characteristic precision and organization, they discovered that as Rabbi Naftali Hayim was a native of Eress Yisrael, which was then under the British Mandate, and he carried a British passport, he was officially a native of an enemy country. How could they allow a British spy move about freely? They immediately imprisoned him in a jail situated along the boundary of the Jewish ghetto. After much effort and the payment of bribes, permission was granted for kosher food to be delivered to his cell. Inside the loaves of bread small pieces of paper were hidden containing reports of the many rescue efforts on his behalf. The people pleaded with the oppressors: the entire ghetto is, after all, one giant prison anyway; nobody comes or goes. Why must he be isolated? Why can't he live with his brethren?
But the enemies shut their ears from these pleas. He was a native of an enemy country and must therefore be confined to prison. The Jews then appealed for his transfer to the prison in Budapest for prisoners of war and foreigners; the prison was under the supervision of the Red Cross and the conditions were far better. The enemies still refused; he was to stay there in the ghetto prison - end of discussion.
He himself prayed innumerable prayers to the Al-mighty. He shed oceans of tears longing to be released and returned to his brethren in the ghetto or in the prisoner camp in Budapest. He thought to himself, the gates of tears are never shut - why are my prayers not accepted?
Then, just before the festival of Shavuot, the deportations to Auschwitz began. Every day, Jews were transported in convoys to the train station as he watched from the window of his prison cell.
Several months later, the evil kingdom collapsed. The prison doors flung open, and he was freed. Among the twenty-two thousand Jews from his city, he was practically the only one who survived. He then heard that over the course of the attack a bomb fell directly on the prisoners' residence in the Budapest jail, burying all the inmates alive.
Only then did he understand why his prayers were not answered, why the gates of heaven shut and did not allow his tears to enter.
The human being, as we know, is the mishkan of Hashem: "They shall make for Me a Mikdash, and I will dwell in their midst." At times, the cloud rests over it - a cloud of confusion, crisis and uncertainty. But we must realize that even in times of darkness, "a fire is upon it at night" - or, more accurately, "bo," IN it, in the cloud itself! Within the cloud lies the light: "It is a time of trouble for Yaakov - and from it he will be saved" (Yirmiyahu 30:7). He is saved "from it," from within the crisis itself: "In the midst of crisis You give me life" (Tehillim 138:7); "In crisis - You freed me" (Tehillim 4:2).
This concept is so critically important for us, in our current situation. When the cloud is thick, when we are overcome by confusion, uncertainty prevails, despair has crept in - we must know who navigates the ship, that we are in good hands, in the hands of the Al-mighty Himself - it will indeed, turn out that this is all for the best!
Rabbi Yosef Yedid Halevi zs"l
Towards the end of his life, Rabbi Yossef Yedid Halevi zs"l was the revered head of the rabbinical court of the Bucharim and Aram Soba communities in Yerushalayim. He had been born, however, to a poverty-stricken family. His father, Rabbi Mordechai zs"l, was an honest, upright man, who taught young schoolchildren, from the age when they first begin reading through their study of Humash. He knew proficiently and by heart the entire Tanach and its Arabic translation. Tragically, however, he lost his eyesight and could no longer oversee the children's studies. To continue earning a livelihood, he appointed his son, who was then still a youngster, in his place. The blind father would sit and whisper the chapters of Tehillim, which he knew fluently by heart, as his son, Yosef, taught the children to read from morning to night. Yosef longed to study Torah and engage in the intensive learning of Gemara, but he was bound to his father's work to support his family, and his father could not hire a tutor to teach him Gemara.
One evening the great Rabbi Shaul Kassin zs"l walked through the streets of the city and saw the young Yosef Yedid quickly sneak into the Bet Kenesset. He followed him and saw the boy approach the aron hakodesh, open its doors, and break out in bitter crying. Rabbi Shaul was struck by what he saw. He went over to the lad and asked him why he cried so bitterly. The boy told him that every day he cries before the aron kodesh over not having the opportunity to progress in Torah learning because of his family's financial troubles.
The sage heard the story and said, "You can stop crying. There is no doubt that the Creator brought me here because your prayers have been answered." He found wealthy benefactors who generously supported the family to enable the young man to study Torah undisturbed day and night, guided by kollel students who were hired to learn with him. Am Yisrael thus merited this great luminary and his important works - "Torat Hacham" and "Yemei Yosef."
Three Pieces of Advice (2)
Flashback: A man who leased a beverage store fell behind on his rent payments, and in the meantime his daughters reached marriageable age. He needed money to pay his debts and marry off his daughters, so he set out and hired himself out doing whatever work he could find. Eventually, after much wandering about, he saved the huge sum of ninety silver rubles and made his way home. Along the way he passed through the town of Berditchev and decided to visit the sacred Rav Levi Yis'hak, the great defender of Yisrael, and ask for a blessing. The sadik informed him that he has three very helpful pieces of advice. As he needed a large sum of money for the ransom of Jewish captives, he was prepared to offer the advice for thirty rubles each.
The man heard the offer and considered his options. True, thirty rubles is a very large sum of money. His months in exile were long and arduous, he spent many weeks of exhausting work to earn his money, one coin at a time. On the other hand, if the sadik considers his advice worth this amount, then it is worthwhile for him to accept the offer. He had seen with his own eyes the sadik's impassioned prayer, his fervent recitation of berachot and sacred demeanor while eating. He was a sacred sadik - surely he would not lead him into a trap!
The sadik took the money and said, "You should know, my son, that if you have two paths before you and you do not know which path to take, choose the right-hand path. For Hazal instructed us, 'all the turns that you turn should be only to the right.' This is the first piece of advice I have for you. If you would like to hear the second, you must give thirty additional rubles in exchange. The decision is in your hands."
The man listened to the sadik's words and his face turned white. Are his ears playing tricks on him? Did he pay the money he earned over the course of several lonely months of intense work, isolated from his family, wandering from place to place, abstaining from food to save one coin at a time - in exchange for a well-known saying of Hazal? Did he save thirty rubles just for this?
And what now? True, the sadik needs the money for the great misvah of ransoming captives - but what about this family? Are they not held captive, as it were, by their landowner who demands his rent payments? Does he not have an obligation to "free" his older daughters from the prison of unmarried life - does not this, too, constitute "ransoming of captives"?
His ambivalence was overbearing, but his faith in the sages overcame it. He handed the sadik another thirty rubles, and he said to himself, "I'll consider it as if I had saved only thirty rubles to begin with. I earned thirty rubles, and two pieces of advice."
The sadik took the money, counted it, put it in his bag, and said, "Remember, my son, the ancient proverb: an older man who marries a young woman brings trouble upon his head. Remember this piece of advice and never forget it. And now, if you want a third piece of advice, pay the final thirty rubles."
The man's eyes darkened. The first time at least he heard words of Torah. Now, he heard a piece of folklore. Was it for this that he worked so hard - in order to lose his wealth in a single moment? And now, what will he do now? Should he leave, and save at very least his last thirty rubles?
To be continued
For maftir this Shabbat we read Parashat Hahodesh. Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon, "This month shall be for you the first of the months; it is for you the first of the months of the year." The Hatam Sofer zs"l said that all wisdom in the world is alluded to in our sacred Torah, as is known to those who know its secrets. The Gemara tells of how the other nations were stunned by the precise knowledge of the sages with regard to the lunar cycle and system of establishing leap years. Incidentally, nowadays the duration of the moon's revolution around the sun is calculated through a laser beam that was sent to the moon and brought back and measured with an atomic clock. The result coincides with Hazal's calculation down to the fifth digit after the decimal point! How did our sages arrive at such a precise calculation without laser beams or atomic clocks, with nothing but clocks made from grains of sand? The answer is that everything is alluded to in the Torah. Where? The Hatam Sofer writes that the allusion is in this pasuk: "This is month is for you. " Fortunate is the one whom the Creator grants the wisdom and vision to acquire this intricate knowledge.
The Midrash (Pesikta D'Rav Kahana 5:13) writes: "This month is for you - it is handed over to you. This is analogous to a king who had a clock; when his son grew older, he handed him his clock. Similarly, when courts arose in Yisrael, He entrusted with them the process of sanctifying the month and determining the festivals."
We have received a tradition that herein lies a most profound concept. Every month has its own unique characteristic. Adar is the month of joy; Nissan is the month of redemption. Hashem's mode of running the world is thus entrusted, as it were, with us. We set the divine clock. If we increase our performance of misvot, we will bring upon ourselves a bounty of blessing and success, joy and happiness. If we repent, then we will bring the redemption closer. "This month," the month of redemption, "shall be for you" - it is in our hands, it depends on us and our actions, on the spiritual growth of each and every one of us!
Yaakob Ben Senyar and Senyar Bat Mazal
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